Philosophy | Topics in Philosophy of Judaism
P305 | 19787 | Morgan

The Jewish Philosophy of Emil Fackenheim

Emil L. Fackenheim, who died in 2003, was one of the most important
and influential Jewish philosophers of the twentieth century.  He was
born in Halle, Germany, studied in Berlin, Scotland, and Canada, and
spent 40 years in Toronto, where he taught at the University of
Toronto and then emigrated to Jerusalem, where he taught and wrote
for the remaining 20 years of his life.  Fackenheim is most famous
for his reflections on Judaism, Jewish thought and philosophy in
response to the Nazi Holocaust.  In the late 60s, he articulated and
defended what he called “the 614th commandment,” that Jews are
forbidden to give Hitler any posthumous victories.  This statement
became a rallying cry for many Jews who took the Holocaust to be a
decisive feature of their identity as Jews in the modern world.

In this course we shall focus on Fackenheim’s philosophical and
theological response to Auschwitz and the death camps.  This
responses takes shape in the late 60s, is refined, and then enriched
in his essays and books of the 70s and 80s especially.  After
introducing ourselves to his thinking about faith and revelation in
the postwar period, we shall then study carefully his essays of 1967-
68 and his influential book God’s Presence in History.  We will also
consider his book on Hegel, The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s
Thought, and the role his study of Hegel plays in his conception of
philosophy and his understanding of the decisive impact of
Auschwitz.  Then, we shall study selected essays from the 1970s and
arrive at his magnum opus, one of the great works of Jewish
philosophy, To Mend the World, published in 1983.  In that work
Fackenheim confronts, for the purpose of arriving at foundations for
future Jewish thought, the work of Spinoza, Rosenzweig, Heidegger,
and others, and he develops a profound set of arguments for grounding
the response to the death camps in Judaism, Christianity, and
philosophy.  We will study To Mend the World in detail, seeking to
understand its subtle dialectic, its central argument for the
uniqueness of the evil of Auschwitz and both the possibility and
necessity of resistance to its horrors, and its special claims for
the importance of the Jewish notion of tikkun olam (to mend the
world) for any responsible post-Holocaust philosophy.

There has never been a course devoted to the philosophy of Emil
Fackenheim taught at Indiana University.  I am excited at the
opportunity to be able to devote a course completely to his work.  It
is extraordinarily important for all those – religious or secular,
philosophers or historians or literary critics, intellectuals or lay-
people – who seek to come to grips with the horrors of Nazism and
those atrocities that have followed in its wake.

The course presumes no prior background in philosophy, Jewish studies
or religious studies.  But Fackenheim’s writings – beautifully
written and rhetorically powerful – are demanding, and students
should be prepared to read and study some difficult material.  There
will be no examinations.  Students will be evaluated on the basis of
several short written assignments, topics for which will be given in
class.  Graduate students are welcome.

Course meets with R345 and P710.